Weston’s Matthias Kiehm, 55, first glimpsed the New York City skyline from the George Washington Bridge as a teenager. He knew right away that he wanted to move from his native Germany to the States — and he did, working at hotels in Beverly Hills, Chicago, and in Boston, where he ran the food and beverage program at the Four Seasons’ one-time hot spot Aujourd’Hui. He also worked in London, directing the food program at Harrods, and at the Four Seasons in Sharm El Sheikh in Egypt.
More recently, he helped to develop Back Bay social club The ‘Quin House. But now the hospitality maven is in Lynnfield, where his wife grew up, poised to open La Gallina at MarketStreet. Chef Daniel Xavier, once the sous chef at Chickadee in the Seaport, plans a Mediterranean menu using some recipes from Kiehm’s Greek-American mother-in-law. It’s slated to open on Thursday, Sept. 22, bringing an upscale touch to the retail complex.
You’ve worked all over the world. Why Lynnfield?
The story of my wife’s family goes back to Lynnfield in 1974. My wife actually grew up about five minutes away from MarketStreet. My mother-in-law still lives in Lynnfield, and I lived in Lynnfield from 1999 to 2002. At the end of the day, it’s almost like going back where I started with my own family.
If you were to describe our area to visitors, someone who’s never been here, what would you say?
I’m not sure if we have long enough to talk about that. But I can tell you one thing. … There was always a strong desire for me to come back here. I think it has something to do with the people. It’s not a big city. It’s very walkable. I always felt, you know, that it’s European. I felt very at home here. … We came back about 12 years ago, and I just love everything about it. I love the seasons we have despite that the winter can be rough at times. I think it’s a city which is, you know, very transient. In many ways, I think, with all the students we have, it’s a young city. It’s a great sports city. We have the oceans. We have the mountains. There’s nothing we don’t have in Boston.
What should people know about La Gallina?
When we looked at … other eateries on the North Shore, the one thing we felt was missing was a Mediterranean eatery, which draws influences from Spain, Italy, Greece, Lebanon. We wanted to bring, if you will, a city restaurant to the suburbs.
When you say ‘city restaurant,’ what does that mean?
That meant, for me, the design aspect of it. Our design is a Mediterranean farmhouse style. I think the design is very warm. As you walk in, a lot of our pieces right at the entrance are found pieces, which we got in from California; they’re very old farmhouse furniture and cabinets. The design aspect was important to us and just bringing a new flavor profile to the North Shore.
Your chef comes from Chickadee, so let’s talk about the foods specifically. What can people expect? I mean, there’s a lot of fast-casual Mediterranean places out there. Is this more fine dining?
I would say we are casual. Call it maybe casual-elegant. ... We hired Dan Xavier from Chickadee, which I think is a fabulous restaurant in terms of the style of food and the New England approach. From a food perspective, we drew from the coast of the Mediterranean. We looked at Spain and Italy, Turkey, Greece, and Lebanon. One of the reasons is my wife is Greek-American; some of the dishes I have experience with from my mother-in-law; we incorporated some of her food.
What’s your favorite thing on the menu?
Thus far, I think it’s the Greek meatballs. It’s my mother-in-law. I’ve got to keep her happy. We have green falafel with avocado tzatziki. That has been great. Crispy pork belly, so that’s more of an Italian tapas with porchetta seasoning. We have a great chicken Milanese. Roasted cauliflower with feta cheese. And, from a pasta perspective, I probably would think it’s the squid ink pasta with calamari and shrimp.
What brought you to the United States and Beverly Hills?
I did two apprenticeships in the hospitality industry. One was front of the house. I moved to Munich in the early ‘90s and opened a hotel, which is today branded as a Mandarin Oriental. I always wanted to come to the US. My aunt lived outside of New York and New Jersey. I came here for the first time when I was 18. I drove over the George Washington Bridge in New York, crossing over to New Jersey. I looked to my left, I looked at the sky, and I said, “This is the country I want to be in.” I was 18 at that point in time.
I came to Los Angeles to the Regent Beverly Wilshire, which was a Four Seasons hotel. I started working as a beverage director and became the director of banquets and then the interim food and beverage director before Four Seasons transferred me to Boston. That was during the time when Aujourd’Hui had its heyday in the mid-‘90s. I was the food and beverage director, and then Four Seasons transferred me again to Chicago, to the Ritz. I stayed there for only two years, and then I moved to Egypt. … I think this is where I started to have this love affair with the Mediterranean. Because, you know, even though the countries are all fairly small, they all have their different culture, they all have their different foods.
What was Boston like back in the day, at somewhere like Aujourd’Hui?
I think in the mid-’90s, Aujourd’Hui was the restaurant in Boston, from what I recall. I think that the food scene has become so much better in Boston. … I think the variety has gotten much better.
You’ve worked at a lot of higher-end places. Who’s the most famous person you’ve ever encountered?
When I worked in Egypt, I was fairly close with President Mubarak. Not sure if that’s a good thing. They lived in the palace right next door, and we organized the engagement party for one of their sons. I worked for Mohamed al-Fayed, you know, whose son is Dodi al-Fayed, in London for four years. He was my boss. I reported to him directly.
What was that like?
Exceptional. Really exceptional. What a wonderful man.
What’s your favorite place to work?
I think the one which changed me the most as an individual, as a person, was Egypt in 2004. I was blown away by the kindness of the Egyptians and their sense for hospitality. And I think living in a country which is not as wealthy as the Western world, what impressed me is how happy people were with the little they had.
What’s your favorite local restaurant? Where do you go you know when you’re not working?
Select Oyster. I just love the atmosphere, the style of food, the casualness of the place. It’s small.
Do you have a snack that you can’t resist?
Ice cream. I’m very boring when it comes to ice cream. I like Richardson’s chocolate ice cream, from Middleton.
Kara Baskin can be reached at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @kcbaskin.